Archive for Saturday, March 25, 2006

Simons: State needs comprehensive strategy on education funding

March 25, 2006


A headline in Friday's Journal-World stated, "State support for higher education at low point."

The fact is the fiscal situation facing all of education in Kansas is almost at a crisis point. The current situation did not burst onto the scene in the last year or two. It is a matter that has grown more serious over recent years and been elevated to an even-more-dangerous level by the Kansas Supreme Court's demand that up to $600 million be added to the state's K-12 public school budgets.

According to several state legislators, the K-12 funding and court mandate has "sucked just about all the energy, enthusiasm out of the Legislature. It has fractured legislation." One lawmaker told this reporter, "The storm cloud of K-12 has had an unbelievable impact on the Legislature. I can't tell you the energy that has been sucked out of the Legislature."

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He added, "Legislators don't like to be bullied into anything, whether by the courts or by universities, such as Kansas University, or by lobbyists."

Kansas House members did not adjourn their deliberations until 4 a.m. Friday and were exhausted, mad and frustrated.

The legislator quoted above said there is greater skepticism and distrust of KU today than at anytime in recent history. "Many of us have been insulted by their behavior. It has cast a cloud over the entire body and our efforts. In past years, legislators have acted in behalf of the university's needs, based on their performance, their record and their leadership. Now, they try to bully their way through the Legislature using lobbyists and untrue threats. Their actions are going to come back and haunt them in the years to come."

Strong words, but the feelings are strong.

The big question facing lawmakers is where are they going to find the additional funding to satisfy the Kansas Supreme Court.

This demand for millions of dollars is placing the state on a dangerous road to a costly collision of K-12 schools, Medicaid recipients and higher education.

There is no way to fund all of these needs to the levels said to be necessary by proponents of the various interests. K-12 will be funded to some degree, one way or another, but two to five years from now, funding will be dangerously low or possibly nonexistent for Medicaid or higher education.

It is a mess, and Kansas deserves better.

Education is terribly fragmented in Kansas. No one is looked upon as the acknowledged leader, the most respected voice for education. There is growing unhappiness among other state universities with the bullying manner of KU officials and the unwillingness to work together. The recent flap over how $5 million a year for five years should be funneled to the KU Medical Center for cancer research angered officials at other schools because KU requested the money without approval of the Kansas Board of Regents. This does not build respect and a desire to cooperate.

There needs to be a gathering of chancellors, university presidents, school superintendents, principals and teachers to forge a strategy to address the fiscal crisis. Such a gathering would help focus the public spotlight on the huge constituency this group serves. It is hoped this would motivate the public, as well as lawmakers, to quit their games and get to work on how to properly fund all of education. As one observer noted, "Everyone in the state, one way or another, falls under the education umbrella."

Sadly, it is almost impossible to get all education interests to work together or cooperate. First, there is little, if any, genuine leadership. Next, it is foolish to think those in the K-12 fraternity are going to share anything they might be gaining at this time. K-12 schools are the 800-pound gorilla. The regents schools are not working together, particularly after recent actions by KU.

As another observer said, "Everyone is sucking out of the education money trough with their own straw. They don't care about the others, just as long as they get what they think they deserve."

The fact is, for one reason or another, education has not told its story. It is competing for dollars with many other interests, and they are getting beat.

What can be done to encourage state lawmakers, state leaders and education leaders to come together with a genuine desire to work for the common good of the state and its people to address the challenge of properly funding education?

Competition and excellence is what is driving our country, as well as our competition: China, India and South Korea. These other countries realize now is the time for them to seize a position of global leadership. What are we doing in Kansas? Fighting among ourselves, with little cooperation, little leadership and no grand plan while rising tuition is putting a college education out of reach for many able students.

In-state tuition costs for KU, for example, have risen 99.2 percent since 2000, with fees up 34.1 percent and total per-semester costs up 88.1 percent. University officials are quick to say KU still is a bargain, but tell that to those writing the checks.

Rather than looking at rising tuition costs at KU as a bargain, it might be more accurate to acknowledge that placing more and more burden on the students and their parents is an admission of failure, the inability of the state to pay its reasonable share of a college education.

Also, arguing that the reason Kansas doesn't do a better job of funding higher education is that many legislators do not have college degrees is hollow and shallow. This state's history, as well as our nation's history, shows those without a good, solid education are those who usually are the most committed to making sure future generations have educational opportunities. Don't try to pass the blame to those in the Kansas Legislature who do not have a college education. That's a cop-out.

It looks as if Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has an excellent chance to serve another four years as Kansas governor. It is hoped she will seize the education problem as one of her top challenges and, in so doing, get Kansas back on course. Gov. Bill Graves could have done it in his second term. He had large majorities in both the House and Senate and, because he no plans to seek further elected office, he didn't have to worry about stepping on toes. Unfortunately, he missed a rare opportunity to set a high standard of leadership.

It is hoped Gov. Sebelius has the vision, courage and leadership to demand better performance by those in education as well as by state legislators.

Indeed, the K-12 funding puzzle is sucking the energy and enthusiasm out of the Legislature, and the court's demands are sucking the state's coffers dry. It's far past time for educators to get their act together, to show some leadership, for KU to work with the other regents universities and for lawmakers to work in the best interests of the state rather than focusing their efforts on trying to make some group or individual look good or bad.


Jayhawk226 12 years, 1 month ago

Dolph--How are any of the educational institutions of the State of Kansas expected to "get along" and "cooperate" when the State Department Education Commisioner openly encourages and advocates for competition amongst each other?

It's his capitalist viewpoint that chartered, private-means are the way to go because they directly compete with one another.

While his philosophy may be accurate, isn't he also a major flaw in the Kansas dysfunctional state of education?

And call it a cop-out if you'd like, when 35% of the state's legislators DO NOT have a college degree or graduate level can you possibly state they are looking out for the best interests of Kansans? All they squabble about is politically-driven when trying to make decions...which then bleeds over into the other state institutions that are educationally-related.

Look at:

  • School consolidations
  • Evolutionary science standards
  • School funding
  • Higher education for minorities and illegal immigrant children

There is a crisis within the State Legislature of making decisions based solely on politics--not research and evidence.

Maybe Corkins is onto something; maybe everybody should privatize.

That way we wouldn't have to worry about self-motivating, undereducated, politically-driven state politicians mandating their political philosophies onto the "educational umbrella" of this state's consitituents.

usaschools 12 years, 1 month ago

Dolph writes "Also, arguing that the reason Kansas doesn't do a better job of funding higher education is that many legislators do not have college degrees is hollow and shallow. This state's history, as well as our nation's history, shows those without a good, solid education are those who usually are the most committed to making sure future generations have educational opportunities. Don't try to pass the blame to those in the Kansas Legislature who do not have a college education. That's a cop-out."

I disagree. History does not show this. INDIVIDUALS who want their children to get a good education show the value of education. However, with public schooling available to all, this desire for your children to have a better education than you did is now reflected in the hopes of parents that their children will attend college. The current legislature, over half of which do not have college degrees, did not grow up in a time where attending college was a very difficult task to accomplish. They CHOOSE not to attend college. Their actions in the legislature show they do not value education. The decisions they made in their own lives also speak to their priorities. No one is suggesting that this is the sole reason they fail to solve this problem, but the fact that education was not a priority in their own lives certainly contributes to their mindset when dealing with the issues at hand. There is no "cop out" in making this fairly obvious observation. In fact, Mr. Simons' allegation is really a misuse of the term "cop out" and makes little sense to me. Mr. Simons also refers to state politicians as "undereducated" in the last sentence of the article!

That being said, Mr. Simons' hits they nail on the head when he says "There is a crisis within the State legislature of making decisions based soley on politics, not research and evidence." Ironically, right after making this excellent point, Mr. Simons (perhaps tongue-in-cheek? Hard to tell with his disjointed writing style) goes on to suggest privitization. This is the most politically-based, non-research or evidence based bad idea ever to be discussed in education.

Godot 12 years, 1 month ago

So the hired guns like USAschools come in and demonstrate precisely why Kansas legislators, and their constituents, are frustrated with the education lobby. USAschools, you have the cojones to perpetuate the lie that has been disproved in this very journal when you say, "The current legislature, over half of which do not have college degrees, did not grow up in a time where attending college was a very difficult task to accomplish"

I guess that fact that 65% of the legislators have college degrees is an inconvenient fact for you. Or maybe you missed class when they taught fractions. Or maybe you belong to the "school" that believes that the seriousness of the charge is more important than the truth.

A legislature shuld be representative of its constituency. That 65% of legislators have college degrees shows that the Kansans who do not have degrees are already under-represented.

There was a time when getting a college degree was reserved for those who had a specific profession in mind; now we have come to the point that people who "choose" not to attend college are considered inferior.

Would USAschools like to address the FACT that a large percentage of college graduates are unable to perform simple tasks such as reading directions, keeping a checkbook, or even computing the amount of a tip?

Godot 12 years, 1 month ago

NCES analysis of data from a study testing the literacy level US adults, sorted by level of education:

Scott Tichenor 12 years, 1 month ago

This article is an embarrassment to this newspaper, the city of Lawrence and the state of Kansas. Shame on this paper for being such a finger-pointer when they author of this knows all too well where the blame should lie.

So KU is the reason behind all of Kansas' education ills? Certainly has nothing to do with the conservative elected officials slowly sucking the education system dry for their special interests. Certainly doesn't have anything to do with our dysfunctional education commission majority and it's commissioner who tripled his salary and more with his appointment to this post, ie., the "one-man think tank".

The legislature certainly has plenty of time to pass those issues of burning importance to them personally, and boy, am I glad I can now tote a gun in my belt when I take my daughter to grade school in the morning or when my wife and I have dinner downtown.

We elect people to represent us, and we're getting exactly what we voted into office. Live with it and stop whining, or elect someone that will represent us. But please, KU isn't the reason this state's education system is headed south for the long haul. It's the job of our elected officials to see that this state is run properly as a business. Unfortunately for the citizens, Enron seems to be the business model they've chosen.

Once my daughter is out of private school it's unlikely we'll be staying around this state so they can squander away the tax dollars we pay.

We certainly deserve better as they author says. Maybe he should apply that to his writing as well.

I don't think I've ever been madder or had me running to post here quicker, something I rarely do, than this article. Congratulations for figuring out an effective way to increase your web site readership.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years, 1 month ago

I agree that lack of a college diploma shouldn't automatically disqualify someone from serving in the legislature. I've known many people who never graduated from or even attended college who are nevertheless well-read and well-informed, and who have good critical-thinking and communication skills.

Unfortunately, that wouldn't be a fair description of a significant number of members of the Kansas legislature. I suspect there are both college grads and non-grads in that group.

usaschools 12 years, 1 month ago

Godot, I'm not a hired gun, but I have been told by two reputable sources who work in Topeka that half of the legislature do not have college degrees. Now, it may be that they were referring only to the house and did not make themselves clear to me. However, no one has ever showed me information to clearly show otherwise. If you can do so, I will gladly stand corected. Facts are not inconvenient to me. Clearly, should the number prove to be less than half, it is a significant number as even Mr. Simons eluded to this in his article. I disagree with your simplistic argumement that a legislature should have equal representation for those without college degrees, clearly implicit in your comments. Extending your logic, a representative legislature would be one that has the same percentage of race, social class, religion, education, etc. to be representative. This is obviously ridiculous. I contend that the job requires a college education.

Clearly, those in the legislature without degrees did CHOOSE not to get one, (presuming they had the grades to be admitted to college). With student loans and such, anyone can attend. However, I never have implied that anyone without a college degree is inferior, something I have made clear before on these forums. However, I think it is clear that not every job is open to someone lacking the appropriate education. I am sure that there have been people in the statehouse who served admirably without the benefit of a college education, but I also think issues have become more complex and the job now demands greater skills. I believe that we need educated people to fill these positions. Let's not pretend that getting a college education brings no benefits.

You absurdly assert as fact the ridiculous claim "a large percentage of college graduates are unable to perform simple tasks such as reading directions, keeping a checkbook, or even computing the amount of a tip." This is ludicrous, since reading is an essential skill at even the worst college, and the math skills you mention are taught in high school and are prerequisite skills for success in the most basic college math class(addition, subtraction and multiplication are all that are required for those tasks).

I apologize if my information is incorrect, but you really shouldn't act so high and mighty if you are going to make ridiculous unproven assertions and call them facts.

Furthermore, I resent you referring to me as a hired gun. I am simply a citizen like yourself who wants to express an opinion. There is no need to attempt to marginalize me by attacking me personally.

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